By Louella Lester
At first, she had liked the
Martha has not yet figured out that trying to be perfect is no way to avoid shame. That perfectionism is not attainable. That it means she will never feel good enough. That it will not please the people she so desperately wants to please. That, in fact, it is a big irritant to them.
So, while Martha sits inside in her dust-free apartment at her dust-free table under her dust-free chandelier, she cannot stop tapping her slippered-foot on her shiny floor. It could be the pile of papers she brought home from work—the pile that she knows she will never be able to get through unless she stays up all night and even then she is not sure she can do it. Or she might be feeling her nerves because she is eating while she works and some crumbs from her gluten-free crackers have sifted through the papers in front of her and she cannot seem to get ahold of them all. Or it might be that damn bird—though she cannot tell if it is just one or a group of them taking turns.
Martha has always maintained a pristine balcony, year round. Her now long-departed grandmother was her role model in these things. Though her grandmother had never had a balcony—the point of pride in her home had been her living room. Nothing, not a doily or an ornament, had ever been out of place. When Martha was a child she was not even allowed in the room, which was only for the best company, and she spent a lot of time admiring it while standing in the hallway in front of the dog gate that blocked the entrance, though there was no dog. Now, when Martha cleans and organizes the balcony, she cannot help but picture her grandmother beaming at her with pride. No one but Martha, and the birds, has stepped out onto the balcony since she moved in six years ago.
After a few minutes, Martha’s foot is tapping out of control and she can feel sweat beading her forehead. She stands and walks to the window. The bird seems to be gone and her heart rate slows, until there, on the edge of the furled patio umbrella, she sees the small grey streak.
Louella Lester is a writer and amateur photographer from Winnipeg, Canada. Her work appears in a variety of journals (including Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Lemon Hound, Prairie Fire, The Antigonish Review, CV2), at CBC News Manitoba Online, and in the anthology, Gush: menstrual manifestos for our times, (Frontenac House, 2018). Her photo “Balcony” accompanies this story.